Over the past few years, African hedgehogs have become popular pets. Here are 10 things you should know before you bring one home.
Laws vary. Laws about keeping these animals as pets vary, depending on where you live. So, before you decide to buy one, check with local authorities to see if special permits are required - or if the animals are permitted at all.
Don't breed females too early. African hedgehogs can begin to reproduce sometime between two and three months of age, but females shouldn't be bred before they are at least 6 months old. Gestation takes 34 to 37 days and litters can range from one to seven pups (three to four is average).
Be careful with new mothers. Don't disturb a new mother just after she has given birth: If stressed, she's likely to eat her young. Males should be kept away as delivery draws near; they take no part in caring for the pups - and may eat them, too. When they are about 4 to 6 weeks old, the pups are weaned from their mother and should be moved to a separate cage.
House them alone. Hedgehogs are solitary nocturnal animals that should be housed alone in a high-sided, smooth-walled cage (a 20-gallon aquarium works well). Don't forget: Hedgehogs are great swimmers and climbers.
Avoid shavings in bedding. Shredded newspaper or paper pellets make the best type of bedding. Shavings such as pine or cedar should be avoided since they contain oils that can be irritating to the animals' respiratory tract, skin and feet. Change bedding frequently since hedgehogs are susceptible to skin problems. Don't use wire flooring, which can cause foot and toe injuries.
Give them hiding spots. Hedgehogs need places to hide in their cages. You can use a cardboard box, PVC tubing, or a clay or plastic flowerpot. Since they like to swim, a small pool may be provided as well. Exercise wheels are wonderful accessories, but keep in mind that hedgehogs play at night. Rodent wheels are not acceptable since the animals tend to get their feet caught in the wires. Hedgehog wheels are available in pet stores.
Watch the temperature. Hedgehogs are comfortable at temperatures of 75 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit degrees. Anything cooler may induce hibernation; higher temperatures can result in sluggishness or heat stress.
Hedgehogs eat plant and animal foods. No one knows what the exact nutritional requirements for hedgehogs are. They appear to eat both plant and animal foods, and their natural diet includes insects, worms, snails, slugs and occasional fruit. While there are commercial diets developed especially for the animals, they have also been known to survive on kitten, cat, dog or ferret food supplemented with earthworms, mealworms, crickets and small amounts of chopped fruits and vegetables.
Watch your hedgehog's weight. In captivity, hedgehogs - which can live up to 8 years - are likely to put on weight, so keep your pet on a high-protein/low-fat regimen. Feed the animal in the evening - their most active time - and be sparing with snacks during the day. Leave fresh water in the cage in a shallow bowl; sipper bottles can be difficult for the animals to manage.
Hedgehogs get scared. When hedgehogs are frightened, they take up a protective position by rolling into a tight ball and exposing their spines or they may puff up, spit or hiss.